Water Woes: A State Law Plays Havoc with Salons

In the early 1990s, when Frank Zona, owner of the Zona salon group, was focused on his flourishing brand, his home state of Massachusetts began debating the issue of waste water and pollution. As is often the case with regulations drawn up in haste, the regulators lumped industries together in categories defined by code numbers rather than research.

In most states, salons’ heavily diluted rinse water is treated like domestic waste. Not in Massachusetts. Regulations passed in 1995 defined all salon water as industrial waste that can damage the state’s water supply. Suddenly water use became the number one concern for every salon that used an on-site sewage or septic system.

“Instead of involving the industry in the development of a thoughtful, long-term solution, they simply forced beauty salons to install a separate holding tank,” explains Zona, who is now well-known across the industry as an industry advocate at Capitol Hill. There was no chance to bring in the manufacturers or to open a dialogue about how products could be altered to meet standards. Suddenly, thousands of salons in Massachusetts were facing a significant new regulation that would cause not only additional direct costs, but make salons a less attractive tenant group.

Zona and others like him had to find space – often underground – for a holding tank that would retain all waste water to be collected by a company licensed by the State of Massachusetts to properly dispose of hazardous or industrial materials.

“It’s an expensive regulation that really doesn’t address the industry well,” declares Zona. “We all agree that clean water is important, but going straight to collection versus establishing standards just creates different problems. It actually pushes more products into the realms of informal activity, putting more chemicals down the drains of homes and informal operations. Even the introduction of mobile licensing has regulators scratching their heads.”

According to Zona, over the past 20 years the ruling has nudged hundreds of salons out of business, pushing stylists into the grey market where they do not pay for their water to be shipped or their taxes.

“It’s hardly a level playing field,” he adds. “And the growth of the grey market is the worst-case scenario because it isn’t easily reached.”

There are positive developments, however.  Frank believes water is becoming more recognized as an important industry resource, and it’s meant investigating every water conservation opportunity he can find. His most recent discovery is the Ecoheads showerhead, developed by an Australian company to help salons cope with its country’s devastating 14-year drought.

“Ecoheads looks very promising, not just for me but for all salons across Massachusetts,” Zona says. “It cuts water usage by 30 per cent, delivering water more efficiently and reducing rinse times. The Massachusetts water board is currently testing it because it could be a major solution to a problem that just isn’t going away.”

Zona and his fellow salon owners across the state will still need to have their waste water shipped out, but there would be a lot less of it, and that will reduce costs of consumption and handling. Zona says his salons alone could soon be saving $26,000 a year.

About Ecoheads: Ecoheads is an innovative company that uses the latest technology to develop environmentally-safe solutions to some of the most intractable problems facing salons. Its debut product, the Ecoheads showerhead, is a highly effective yet aesthetic product for the professional hair market that fits easily onto any salon’s existing backwash basin. Its environmentally friendly and easy-to-fit design doubles water pressure while saving water and energy. Regardless of a salon’s water pressure, each installed Ecoheads will deliver a high-pressure flow using less than 1.5 gallons a minute that gently massages clients’ scalps to stimulate blood flow, while unique sub-micron filters remove sediment, rust and solids from the water. Based on an average daily use of 156 gallons per basin, that means a saving of more than 100 gallons of water a day for each chair, or 65% less expensively heated water than traditional shower heads.

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